My supervisee Christopher Barrington came in to bring me a copy of his thesis – a really proud moment for me! Chris worked on the effects of environmental stress on Maize – a very relevant and timely topic of research.
The objective was to search for epigenetic modifications resulting from subjecting maize plants to excessive cold and heat. Epigenetics is a very interesting topic, and ever since my colleague Jose from Life Sciences (who co-supervised Chris) brought me this possible topic I was hooked and keen to be involved. Epigenetics refers to semi-permanent changes made to DNA – mostly in the form of methylation of certain nucleotides, which affects the decoding of genes (other forms of epigenetic effects are available). Methylation is facilitated by very small bits of RNA, which are in turn coded in other parts of the DNA: just one of the amazing ways that the dance of biology works.
Recognizing which genes have been modified by methylation is extremely hard, and Chris had to use powerful bioinformatic strategies to compare the DNA of stressed pants with reference databases. The result is a huge catalogue of data on how maize reacts to environment factors, and in the context of plant biology can help us understand better how we can ensure food supply in the long run.
I will add a link to the electronic version of the thesis when it’s put up. It’s been great to be part of Chris’s journey towards his PhD.